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26 August 2020
Asylum system needs 'wholesale reform' Nicola Sturgeon says

Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA Wire/PA Images

Asylum system needs 'wholesale reform' Nicola Sturgeon says

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called for “wholesale reform” of the UK asylum system, following the death of Mercy Baguma, an asylum seeker in Glasgow. 

Baguma’s one-year-old child was reportedly found near her body in a malnourished condition in their home in Govan. 

Sturgeon said she felt “consumed with sadness and also with real anger” and promised to write to the Home Office calling for an inquiry into Baguma’s death. 

Sturgeon made the comments during First Minister’s Questions in response to a question from Scottish Greens MSP Alison Johnstone. 

Johnstone said the Home Office was responsible for the “appalling tragedy” and asked the Scottish Government to back calls for reform of the laws surrounding asylum accommodation and support. 

A charity who had helped Baguma with access to food in recent months said that she had been living in “extreme poverty” since her limited leave to remain in the UK, which allowed her to work, expired. 

Sturgeon supported calls for an inquiry and for reform of the UK asylum system, which she said is “not just broken but is deeply inhumane”. 

She said: “People who come to Scotland because they need a place of safety should have our support, and that is even more true now in this time of crisis. 

“Asylum is wholly reserved to the UK Government and that includes the procurement and the operation of asylum accommodation and support contracts.”

She added: “We need wholesale reform of our asylum system and it needs to start from the principles of dignity, of empathy and of support for our fellow human beings who come to this country seeking support at desperate and dismal times of their lives. 

“And I would appeal to the UK Government to look into their hearts as a result of this case and finally make the changes that are needed.”

Sturgeon argued that the Scottish Parliament should have more control over the housing and support of asylum seekers. 

She said: “When we have controls of these systems, it will not be the case that we get everything right all of the time but we will be able to have systems that reflect our values as a country. 

“I think that what happened to Mercy Baguma, although we don’t know all of the details right now, but I think all of the hallmarks of the UK asylum system just now, I think, do not reflect the values of the Scotland I know and love.”

Scottish Greens’ Alison Johnstone said: “This appalling tragedy occurred as a direct result of UK Government asylum policy which forced Mercy into extreme poverty. 

“We cannot allow mothers and babies to go hungry in 21st century Scotland. 

“I know that the Home Office is responsible, and the Home Secretary must answer for this entirely preventable death. But we cannot simply stand by, this is on all of us. The First Minister must act to ensure that this tragedy isn’t repeated.

“In response to this tragedy the Home Office has said that it takes the wellbeing of all those in the asylum system ‘extremely seriously.’ 

“Anyone who sees the cruel way asylum seekers are treated knows that statement just isn’t credible. This is the third death of an asylum seeker in Scotland in recent months.

“Positive Action in Housing has called for an inquiry into the housing of asylum seekers during the pandemic given the serious concerns that have been raised.

“Further examination of the deaths and suffering caused by the UK’s hostile environment is clearly required, so it’s vital that an independent inquiry is established urgently to shine a light on the impact of this cruel and inhumane policy.

“Scottish Greens Glasgow City Councillor Kim Long is currently leading a campaign for asylum seeker accommodation to be taken out of private hands and managed at the local level by the council with support from the third sector to ensure it meets all the needs of those in the asylum system.”

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